The open sky stretched from sand to horizon and the riders advanced on the oasis.
The camp hosting the royal retinue was visible on the opposite side of the oasis. The group of black robe clad riders paused for a moment, before riding in sync towards the huge white tent, pitched for the Peace Treaty Meeting.
As per the agreement, only five essential advisors were to accompany both leaders into the white tent; so, the rest took up defence and guard positions around the entire oasis. Neither of the two groups were foolish enough to trust the other.
The king frowned as six hooded figures entered the tent, moving as a cohesive unit of seasoned warriors. Perhaps they were, going by the number of raids and attacks the soldiers of the great nation of Talcena had had to fend of the last few years. Instead of sitting on the cushioned chairs, they stood still in a single file. The Talcean king shifted around his seat, trying to catch a glimpse of the hideous faces of these barbarians, the Dayatiyes.
“I want your leader to take off his cowl and meet me like a man,” King Hemolin thundered, before his minister could open the parley. “Or are you actually a bunch of ugly and cowardly savages and hoodlums?” Hemolin wanted to look in the eyes of this monster, suspected to have been the mastermind of the entire Red-Night Attack- killing more than half the Talcean elite force in a surprise assault in both his capitals. Just two more night raids after that disaster had brought the Talceans to their knees.
All Talcean ministers and advisors glanced at each other nervously, except the old crone sitting at the corner. White haired and wrinkled with gnarled fingers, the Royal Fortune-Teller sat still, not unlike in a trance; her eyes flitting from one figure to another, as though in search of some great truth.
A bald man with one glass eye and a missing right middle finger sat in the centre chair, his gang forming an arch behind his back. “Our terms,” he grunted through yellow stained teeth, throwing a dirty scroll before the Chief Advisor.
“Abolish the Malekka tradition?” The minister reading the scroll chocked as gasps flew around the tent. The tradition was embedded into the Talcean culture like the stars in the night-sky. All the cursed children- the cripples, the blinds, the deaf and mute; the tainted girls- the womb-less and barren ones; the young marked with God’s wrath were left to die out in the desert behind the Kingdom of Talcena. Of-course, the health and prosperity of the Talceans had to be safeguarded against any ill-faith brought by these Unnatural Ones.
Before the purple faced Hemolin could fly into a rage, the old crone stood up and hobbled her way to stand beside the king. Crushing a handful of berries, she let the red stains drip into the polished sandalwood surface of the table. The bright red juice, resembling blood, jolted the King into recalling the reason for initiating this treaty.
A fortnight ago, the king had consulted the Royal Fortune-Teller as worry had taken root in his heart. Many of the border towns of Talcena suffered from bad harvest while the eastern regions saw rise in a weird plague that affected the young males. The north and west already bore the brunt of the Dayatiyean attacks, but the flourishing centre couldn’t sustain the entire kingdom for long.
Instead of the courtyard infront of her residence where she made her predictions, this time she met her monarch indoors.
“Listen, O Great One, the wearer of Thorned Crown!
Day of the Dead has come at last; their misery be avenged!
The blood that flowed from their wounds, be cursed upon your land.
Their screams be heard from your mothers, as your sons face their steel.
In the land of the sun, wave the white;
Or in the dark of the night, burn the furnace.
But remember, your act will seal the fate of this land of your blood.”
Treaty or a costly war, the crone had warned the cruel king. After an epic temper tantrum, the king had called upon his advisors. Trade with these barbarians could bring the much-needed medicinal herbs and seeds from their dwelling, Forest of the Fey. For ages, these civilized Talceans had been afraid of the dangerous beasts lurking in the forest, even though they had hunted those wild creatures for sport. And these Dayatiyes had proved that only the barbaric could live in the magical forest, with the everlasting rivers and never-shedding trees and heavy rains. Without any further discourse, the very next morning, the impetuous king had sent a vague offer of treaty, more insulting than inviting.
As the sun set, painting the sky a bloody yellow, the group of six riders in their dark robes were seen riding into the horizon. With their fact pace, they soon neared the entrance to the Forest of the Fey. Leading their horses into a light trot, the group took off their hoods as they made their way to the tribal clearing. A slight woman, with flint like eyes, pockmarked skin and a red scar running from cheek to chin stepped upto the platform after alighting from her mare. Those gathered before her, from tall men and small children to her battle-hardened soldiers, all fell silent as their ‘urna’ (leader) spoke in their Dayatiye tongue.
“The terms have been agreed upon. This Treaty is will be the start of what we have dreamt of for so long, living as thieves in the forest. We were discarded at birth by these ingrate Talceans, called Malakka (cursed) in their tongue, left to die if not for the old Dayatiyes who took us in. We’ve hunted and raided, lost children to their blades, bled for their crimes as we trained from dawn to dusk to survive each day.
“But now our time has come to rise again. Our priestess has paved the way for us to infiltrate Talcena in broad daylight through the false prophecy. Soon, the greedy king will want more of our forest and its boons, as we slowly take over their hearths and homes. And then, we’ll snatch from them what was stolen from us. The next sunrise shall begin the downfall of Talcena.” The birds flew from their nests as battle cries and shouts of joy filled the clearing. The Dayatiyes were ready for the most difficult battle of their lives.
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